Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 smart telescope review
The most affordable serious smart telescope has more megapixels, a wider field of view and a new planet mode
Is the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 the best smart telescope so far? The first evidence that smart telescopes are gradually becoming more affordable, this second version of Unistellar’s original eVscope eQuinox telescope offers some unique features and also sees the birth of the new Unistellar app.
The standout difference between the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 and Unistellar’s flagship telescope the eVscope 2 is that it doesn’t have an eyepiece, so it offers an experience that’s a little less immersive. However, since it’s about half the price, it’s a lot more accessible. Equipped with a similar resolution and the same light pollution mitigation technology for use in urban settings, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 now includes both a new ‘planet mode’ and a new citizen science dimension.
Are you ready to take a deep dive into the latest smart telescope? Here’s everything you need to know about the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 from six weeks of testing – including lots of test images and a look at the new Unistellar app.
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2: price and availability
- Announced at the CES Show, Las Vegas in January 2023
- Originally on sale in mid-February 2023
- On sale for US$2,499 / UK£2,199 / €2,499
Not only was there something inevitable about this smart telescope, but it was also fitting that it was announced at the technology industry’s flagship annual exhibition, the CES in Las Vegas in January 2023. Just like the smartphones, smart watches and action cameras previewed in “City That Never Sleeps” each year, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is the latest refresh in what looks set to be a long-lasting range of smart telescopes from Marseille, France-based smart telescope-maker Unistellar.
Equipped with lots of small incremental upgrades, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 went on sale in mid-February 2023 to replace the original Unistellar eVscope eQuinox, hence known as the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 1 from 2020. Is it worth the wait?
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2: electronics and battery
- Sony Exmor IMX347 CMOS sensor
- 64GB hard disk
- Built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery (11 hours)
Since the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is a smart telescope, it has a computer inside it. Stored in the mount, it’s here where the algorithms live that produce the finished images users see in the Unistellar app on their smartphone or tablet. That onboard computer is also accompanied by a 64 GB hard disk, which stores all the images you take, from compressed JPEG images ideal for sharing to lossless PNG and FITS files that can be accessed later on. This is also where data is stored if you use your Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 in a citizen science observation campaign (more on that below).
Inside the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2’s mount is also a lithium-ion battery that’s good for 11 hours of runtime. That will be enough for most users, though in our test (which involved a lot of slewing and, thus, abnormally high use of the motor) it ran down a little more quickly, reaching about eight hours before a recharge was required. It’s also worth pointing out that the previous version of this telescope has a 12-hour battery.
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2: connections
- USB-C (proprietary wall charger)
There are only two connections on the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2. A USB-C slot is provided to charge the telescope’s internal battery, but you can’t use just any USB-C cable (such as the one you might use for your smartphone). Annoyingly, you have to use the power cable included in the box, which in this case terminates in a UK plug. We tried using a plethora of USB-C cables, plugs, and batteries, but none of them worked. It’s doubly annoying because it means you can’t recharge the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 while out in the field from a portable battery. We were also slightly annoyed because the USB-C slot is particularly hard to reach, hidden away on the underside of the mount.
Alongside it is a USB-A connection for charging your smartphone, though we would advise you to use a dedicated smartphone battery for that purpose. In fact, every time you use the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 it would be wise to attach your smartphone to a battery to avoid it running down too quickly.
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2: accessories
- no filters available
The only accessory available for Unistellar’s telescopes is a backpack, which is designed for all of its products (all of which are the same physical size). It’s hugely impressive – well made, tough and comfortable – and makes it relatively easy to transport a smart telescope. It doesn’t ship with the eVscope eQuinox 2 (US$429/ UK£329 / €359). Unlike its rival, Vaonis, Unistellar doesn’t make any filters available, instead using image processing to battle light pollution and to get the most detail from nebulae.
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2: mount and tripod
- Motorized single-arm altazimuth GoTo
- Aluminum, adjustable height tripod
The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 has a built-in single-arm altazimuth mount that’s motorized and tracks the night sky just like any GoTo telescope. Included in the box is a particularly large, strong and sturdy tripod weighing 2.2 kg. Each leg has two extendable sections so it can be set up to stand alone at 133cm or on a table at 59cm.
Set-up involves merely placing the telescope on the top of the tripod and securing two thumbscrews, which seems a little precarious at first, but works well. The tops of the tripod legs each have foam covers, which makes them easy to grip.
eVscope eQuinox 2: optics
- 4.5-inch / 114mm Newtonian reflector
- f/4 aperture
- 450mm focal length
The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 might be regarded as a smart telescope, but at its core, it still has a recognizable optical design. Like all the products in the Unistellar range, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is a Newtonian reflector, as invented by genius English astronomer Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century. The core design is really simple; light comes in, hits a primary concave mirror at the back, and is focused on a secondary flat diagonal mirror, which sends it onto the camera sensor (instead of an eyepiece, as you’d find on a manual telescope).
Its optical design and advanced electronics make the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 a very sensitive instrument with a limiting magnitude of 16 in light-polluted cities and 18.2 in rural skies. That’s hugely impressive!
eVscope eQuinox 2: field of view
- Increased to 34 x 47 arcminutes
- Large enough for Pleiades and Andromeda galaxy
- No ‘Moon mode’
One of the biggest changes on the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is that, like the eVscope 2, it now has a larger field of view. Whereas it was 27 x 37 arcminutes, it’s now 34 x 47 arcminutes. So what? This is about it being able to see all of the Pleiades open cluster of stars (one of the night sky’s most imaged objects), more of the Andromeda galaxy (ditto) and the whole of the Moon (though a dedicated ‘Moon mode’ will be the subject of a firmware update in the future, Unistellar tells us).
In astronomy, an arcminute (often abbreviated as arcmin.) is a unit of angular measurement used to express small angles, such as the apparent size of celestial objects, the separation between two celestial objects, or the angular resolution of telescopes.
One arcminute is equal to 1/60th of a degree, which means there are 60 arcminutes in a degree. The symbol used for arcminute is ‘ (a single quote).
For example, if a star has an angular size of 1 arcminute, it means that its apparent size is equivalent to 1/60th of a degree when viewed from Earth. Similarly, if two stars have an angular separation of 2 arcminutes, it means that the angle between them, as measured from Earth, is 1/30th of a degree.
Arcminutes are an essential unit of measurement in astronomy since many astronomical objects have very small apparent sizes or separations that can only be measured accurately using angular measurements.
eVscope eQuinox 2: set-up and alignment
- Autonomous Field Detection (AFD)
- Bahtinov focus mask
With the help of Autonomous Field Detection technology, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 offers unparalleled ease of use. Once on its robust tripod outdoors and activated using the app on a smartphone, it uses that device’s GPS to set its position then scans the skies for stars (even very faint stars) and matches them against its vast library of more than 37 million points of light. During our tests it had a near-perfect success rate; within a minute of being turned on, it was ready for stargazing. That’s not typical for most telescopes, which usually need lengthy alignments with two or three stars.
However, one important manual step is required; focusing. The dust cap houses a detachable Bahtinov focus mask that can be easily attached to the front of the telescope tube. Before doing so, point the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 at a bright star. Now clip on the Bahtinov mask and manually twist the focus wheel (on the back of the telescope tube) to align the mask’s diffraction spikes until they form a cross with a line running through. That means super-sharp stars and, crucially, in-focus deep-sky objects. It’s not a difficult process, but for some, this will be a steep learning curve. It would be better if the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 had a motorized lens, which would also make autofocus possible.
eVscope eQuinox 2: control and app
- New Unistellar app for 2023
- 10 smart devices can be connected
Debuting on the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is a completely new version of the Unistellar app. That’s a brave move because the old version was already excellent. However, the new version is at least as good, and in some ways, even better.
By connecting a smartphone or tablet to the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2’s Wi-Fi network and downloading the Unistellar app, users can select from a collection of 5,000 planets, galaxies, and nebulae. The app simplifies the selection process by prioritizing well-positioned and bright objects at the top of the list. Once an object is chosen by tapping on it, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 will automatically move to it and begin capturing a sequence of short exposures.
However impressive the Unistellar app is, it’s very battery-intensive. Although it’s perfectly possible to set the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 going on a long imaging session and disconnect a smartphone – perhaps for over an hour before connecting back to the telescope to check its progress – the temptation is to keep a smartphone connected and tuned-in. After all, who doesn’t want to see the latest image? However, that means leaving a smartphone switched on for a long time – and that has consequences for battery life. So it’s best to begin every session with a charged-up portable battery attached to a smartphone. If you do happen to have a spare smartphone you could consider using it with the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2.
eVscope eQuinox 2: usability
- No WiFi dropouts or app crashes
- Imaging is time-consuming
The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is really easy to use. After initiating the image capture process you can relax and wait for the image quality to enhance. For instance, a series of images taken over five minutes can provide a decent representation of a galaxy, but waiting for an hour can reveal astonishing details, such as spiral arms and dust lanes. The same principle applies to faint nebulae, which may require at least 30 minutes of observation before revealing themselves. Throughout the observation, you have the option to download the image to a smartphone or save a high-quality 6.2-megapixel version to the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2’s 64GB hard disk. During our tests we didn’t come across any app crashes, signal dropouts, or WiFi issues – it’s really dependable.
eVscope eQuinox 2: image quality
- 6.2 megapixels
- JPEG, TIFF and FITS files types
- Enhanced Vision algorithm is the secret sauce
The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2’s images boast a resolution of 6.2 megapixels. That’s a 27% increase compared to the original eVscope eQuinox’s 4.9 megapixels. What you don’t get with the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 that is found on the pricier Unistellar eVscope 2 is the latest version of Enhanced Vision and also Super Resolution, so in comparison, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2’s images do lack a little sharpness.
The level of detail provided and the vivid colors displayed are consistently superior to what can be observed through an optical telescope, especially from urban areas. This is why intelligent telescopes such as the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 are poised to revolutionize amateur astronomy.
eVscope eQuinox 2: sample images
- Images shared to social image come pre-formatted and captioned
- Lossless files can be saved to the telescope hard disk
Here are some images taken with the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 during February 2023:
The Orion Nebula
The eVscope eQuinox 2 telescope employs Unistellar’s Enhanced Vision technology to reveal the complex features of the Orion Nebula. Over time, the telescope uncovers dusty elements, brilliant luminosity, and striking colors.
The wider field of view makes it easier than ever to capture the open star cluster known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters in the constellation of Taurus. The prominent blue color of about 100 stars is captured.
Bode’s Galaxy, also known as M81, is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years distant and located in the constellation of Ursa Major, approximately 12 million light-years away from Earth. Relatively speaking, that’s very close, hence why its nucleus appears bright in this image.
The Whirlpool Galaxy
About 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici, the Whirpool Galaxy (or M51) is a spiral galaxy beautifully captured by the eVscope eQuinox 2. This exposure for over 30 minutes includes its fabulous spiral arms as well as a line of stars connecting it to a nearby galaxy it’s interacting with.
The Owl Cluster
The Owl Cluster, also known as NGC 457, is an open star cluster in the constellation Cassiopeia. The eVscope eQuinox 2 captures its compact starfield, showing the two bright stars that double as the eyes of the bird. Only a short exposure is required to get a great view of this open cluster 7,900 light-years distant.
eVscope eQuinox 2: planet mode
- ‘Lucky imaging’
- Don’t expect wonders
The ability to see planets in detail – which debuts on the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 – is new to smart telescopes. Unistellar uses Enhanced Vision for deep sky objects, but now its engineers have developed a new algorithm for planetary imaging. The new mode was made available to users of all eVscopes in December 2022.
In stark contrast to the long exposures it uses to image deep sky objects, the incredibly bright orbs of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are imaged by Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 using a technique called “lucky imaging”. Another technique used by huge ground-based telescopes, it’s when astrophotographers continually snap away at an object in the night sky hoping that Earth’s turbulent atmosphere will, just for a split second, settle enough for them for the image to be perfectly exposed, sharp and without any distortion. Lucky imaging means only the images that weren’t troubled by turbulence are used. In our tests with Mars, it worked reasonably well, but the seeing wasn’t particularly good. Sadly there were no other planets “up” that season from our observing position, but we’ll continue to try.
eVscope eQuinox 2: solar imaging
- No official accessories are available
- No dedicated solar mode
- Manual observations are possible with care
Unlike the rival smart telescope the Vaonis Vespera – for which a range of filters is available – there are no solar filters sold to accompany the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2. That doesn’t mean you can’t use a solar filter, but it’s at your own risk.
eVscope eQuinox 2: citizen science
- Easy to make in-app scientific observations
- Help NASA and SETI scientists
- Asteroids, comets and exoplanets
Fancy being cited as a co-author of a scientific discovery? That’s now possible with the new Unistellar app, which puts citizen science front can center. It means you can move from being a nervous first-time amateur astronomer to contorting to actual science in mere hours. It’s possible to participate in observational studies, in collaboration with NASA and the SETI Institute, to investigate asteroid occultations and passing comets, and even assist in verifying new exoplanet discoveries made by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). I took part in a campaign to monitor the “green comet” or “Neanderthal comet,” officially named comet 2022 E3 (ZHF), during which I received coordinates for its position at five-minute intervals. Approximately 20 minutes later, I transmitted my findings to Unistellar’s servers.
The most high profile so far is the use of eVscopes to confirm the success of NASA’s DART planetary defense mission to change asteroid Dimorphos’ motion in space through kinetic impact. Over thirty eVscope users around the world observed the impact of DART on Dimorphos as well as the behavior of the asteroid after the impact. The findings were crowdsourced from the telescopes and their users credited as co-authors on a paper published in the journal Nature in March 2023.
As soon as you’ve signed up you can attempt to capture comets, asteroid occultations and exoplanet transits. Selecting either takes you out of the app and onto Unistellar’s website, which looks for specific events or targets, informs you how long the observation will take, and then transfers the coordinates back into the eQuinox 2. In our test, it worked well for collecting data on comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), though it’s also very simple to enter your own coordinates if you merely want to image a comet.
Arguably the most important kind of citizen science that the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is perfect for is confirming exoplanets around other stars, especially those spotted by TESS. Since some exoplanets can take many hours to transit their host star from our point of view on Earth, eVscopes like the eQuinox 2 can be used and daisy-chained to cover, say, a period of 50 hours of uninterrupted relay observations.
eVscope eQuinox 2: imaging a comet
- test images on comet 2022 E3 (ZHF)
- Unistellar website generates deep links for the app
To really put this smart telescope to the test we decided to take an image of the comet 2022 E3 (ZHF) as part of a citizen science campaign. Within the app, we navigated to the comet section and found a link to the Unicenter website, which created a deep link to use in the app. All we had to do was select a comet (there were about six on the list) and enter your exact location, which it found in seconds from a UK postcode. It then generated specific coordinates for the comet for periods 10 minutes apart across the following nine hours. Whichever time was chosen is then swapped into the app to use later. It’s not a particularly simple process, but we managed to work it all out in under five minutes.
Considering how long one can plan observations and execute observations, that’s a pretty short time. The observation was for 20 minutes and the results were excellent, with the comet showing a bright nucleus, a bright white tail, and a touch of green. The data was later uploaded to the Unistellar website.
eVscope eQuinox 2: verdict
For those determined to operate a smart telescope via their smartphone, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 is the best option for value and performance. Simple to assemble and operate, it produces captivating imagery even in heavily light-polluted urban areas. The eVscope eQuinox 2 is an innovative and groundbreaking telescope that has the potential to revolutionize how we observe the night sky.
eVscope eQuinox 2: specifications
|Price||US$2,499 / UK£2,199 / €2,499|
|Optics||114mm (4.5-inch) reflector|
|Focal length||450mm, f/4|
|Field of view||34 x 47 arcminutes (0.56 x 0.78 degrees)|
|Sensor||Sony Exmor IMX347|
|Image resolution||2,520 x 2,520 pixels, 6.2 megapixels|
|Image format||JPEG, TIFF, FITS|
|Mount||Motorized single arm, altaz, Go-To|
|Battery||Built-in lithium-ion rechargeable (11 hours)|
|Tripod||Aluminum, adjustable height|
|Ports||USB-C (for power) and USB-A for charging a smartphone|
|App control||Unistellar app for smartphones|
|Weight||19.8 lbs / 9kg|